The Last Handful of Clover

Chapter 2.60: The Boy

Book Two — Gifts Both Light and Dark

NOTE: This chapter is available in audiobook format on the TLHOC Podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.

August, 1969

George Drouillard never had a son. At least, not while he was alive.

Of course, Tuilla’s children had called him “father,” but by the time he was adopted by the Goshute, they were already late into their teens. They never saw him as the father he really wanted to be: nurturing, caring, and affectionate. And although he had loved Tuilla’s children dearly, they were never really his own.

But little Sutton Deary was different.

Drouillard did not think it mattered in the least that he had not sired Sutton. Or that he had not found him until August of 1969, when the boy was already five years old. Sutton was his son, and he doted on the boy the way any loving father would dote over his first-born.

He knew the boy was his from the moment he first possessed him.

Drouillard had learned the Fourth Gift slowly, over more than a century. And by the time he discovered the Deary family, he had already used it on a dozen men and women. Possession was strange and intoxicating, but the Wanderer had also found it disconcerting to be in the minds of twentieth-century humans, whose lives and concerns were so different from the world he had known. It wasn’t until he found the sweet and innocent mind of Sutton Deary that he realized the Fourth Gift could be a blessing.

In little Sutton Deary, Drouillard had found a soul perfectly pure and perfectly kind—and when he entered the boy he was not met with fear and panic, as he had been in every mind he had possessed up to then. Instead, the little boy was just curious, relinquishing control of his limbs and his voice without a single bit of struggle. There was no need to push him deep in the well and lock him there, the way Drouillard had with those who had come before. Instead, they sat face to face in the boy’s mind, looking into each other’s eyes, in curiosity and wonder of each other.

Perhaps that trust and innocence came from the fact that the boy was so young. If he had been even a few years older he might have learned distrust and fear. That was a simple answer, but somehow, Drouillard knew it was not the entire story. No, there was just simply something inherently good about the boy. Little Sutton Deary could not imagine a soul consumed with hatred—the way that Drouillard’s soul had been for a hundred years—and thus he only saw the sparks of humanity that had not yet been extinguished from the Wanderer’s heart.

Possessing the boy soothed a century of Drouillard’s hatred, and in the days that followed the old ghost once again felt love, and peace, and happiness.

In the century since his death, the old ghost had forgotten much of his past. The life he had once lived was, by that time, little more than jumbled images of horses and desert sand. He remembered he had lived a long life, and died a very old man. He could see his age in the wrinkles of his hands, and the blue veins in his legs. But other than the name George Drouillard, he remembered little—and for most of the past century, he had not even bothered to try. His rage had shown him the doorway to possession, and he had used it to ease his way into Sutton’s innocent mind.

And thus the love of the boy seemed even more like a miracle. It was a reprieve and a second chance for a wounded old soul to find peace. As he held the boy in his mind, and felt his innocence and kindness, he vowed he would never again leave this young body. For he knew that if he did, he could never hate the boy enough to possess him again.

The Deary family was young and devout. The father was just twenty-four, and an insurance salesman. His mother was a year older, and had been a stay-at-home mom ever since they had moved their family from Bountiful to Salt Lake City three years before. Sutton was their first child, but they had plans for many, many more.

They knew the moment Sutton was born that he was a unique soul. They called him their blessing and their angel.

Sutton still spent much of his time in his mother’s lap, and the physical touch of a woman was something that the Wanderer had completely forgotten. The quiet moments of being held against Mrs. Deary’s breasts brought forth strange images that both troubled and soothed Drouillard. They were images of women he must have known, and of nights locked in passion. The mind of young Sutton Deary watched his new friend struggle with those memories, and his presence soothed the old ghost, until they were both able to sleep—curled together like puppies, in the lap of their mother.

As the days progressed, Drouillard felt his need for revenge dissipating. He wanted to hold on to the anger and the hatred, since it was all he had known for more than a century. But in the lap of his mother and in the warm glow of the boy he now loved, it was hard to remember why destruction and revenge had ever seemed so important.

And yet even as Drouillard reveled in his newfound peace, the boy’s parents sensed that something was wrong with their son.

The bubbly boy that had been such a source of joy in their lives had become quiet, thoughtful, observant, and sometimes even morose. They tried to talk to him, and he would brighten for a moment—but it no longer felt like genuine joy. It seemed that their little boy was always distracted, as if he was listening to a far off voice. All of the toys he enjoyed were tossed aside, and the boy spent long days just staring out the window. The Dearys watched him from the door of his room, concern written starkly across their faces.

And then Drouillard’s world came crashing down, less than a month after he had found the boy.

It happened on the day that the Dearys bundled everyone into their Ford Falcon station wagon, intending to visit Sutton’s aunt in Bountiful. The couple didn’t tell Sutton where they were going, as they were laughing and chattering with each other, clearly hoping it would be a surprise. They knew how much the boy loved his Aunt Kayla.

They were heading north on US-91, Sutton strapped securely behind his mother, when the ghost realized that the boy’s parents had no intention of turning the car around before they reached the edge of the Hereafter, a few miles to the north. As he watched the skyline of Salt Lake City fading in the rear window, the Wanderer felt fear rising like bitter bile in his throat.

Like every ghost, Drouillard knew the pain and terror of being reset, and he watched the city receding behind them with a growing sense of dread. Not only would he be reset if they crossed that threshold, but he was sure that the reset would rip him from the loving embrace of Sutton Deary forever. The very thought of it filled him with more dread than anything he had ever known, and the closer they came to the edge of the Hereafter, the more that fear claimed him.

Finally, George Drouillard panicked.

In his terror, the old ghost used Sutton’s voice to scream words that were crass in ways no five-year-old boy should know. He fumbled with the latch of his seatbelt and then he threw his tiny body against the back of his mother’s seat so violently that it propelled her into the dashboard. The shock on the young couple’s faces as they pulled quickly to the side of the road was palpable.

In his panic, Drouillard lied. He blurted out that they could not leave the valley. That if they did, he would die. That he would be ripped from them and torn into pieces. He begged them to turn around, to believe him, to save him.

Of course, the Dearys didn’t believe their boy would die if they left the city. But they believed that he was having some kind of seizure, or emotional break. Sutton could see the terror on their faces, and he could hear the calm tones that they tried to use. But to his horror, they did not turn the car around. Instead, they put him between them on the wide bench seat and continued north.

What the Wanderer didn’t realize was that he had terrified the couple so badly that they were now racing for a hospital—but not one in Salt Lake City. The hospital in Bountiful where their son was born was now closer than going back. Sutton was horrified anew when he realized they had lied to him, and were still intent on leaving the city.

He could sense the edge of the Hereafter, less than a quarter mile away now. In a final act of desperation he wrenched his new young body out of his mother’s arms and launched himself at his father. He grabbed two handfuls of the man’s thick hair and smashed the man’s face down, onto the steering wheel…

He didn’t even feel the crash.

All he knew was that one moment his father was screaming and his mother was striking at him and trying to pull the boy back…

And then suddenly, Drouillard was being propelled back into the Void.

The mind of little Sutton Deary registered momentary terror and confusion, and clutched at Drouillard desperately, the way a drowning child would clutch at an outstretched hand. The Wanderer’s own more sophisticated mind knew at once what was happening. He had nearly forgotten the terror of the Void, as he had experienced it back in 1851. But as it tried to suck him in like a black whirlpool, all that pain and fear returned.

Sutton Deary’s young body was dying. And as it died, they were both being pulled out of the world, like two shipwreck survivors, trying to climb over each other as they sank beneath the waves. Drouillard knew they would leave this world before the boy ever had a chance to live a life. They would leave it before Drouillard could find peace. Worst of all, they would leave it before he could have his revenge.

And yet he also sensed that it was not his soul that was being pulled out of the world. It was the soul of the boy! But the little mind’s desperate and terror-filled grasp on his new friend was so tight that it threatened to pull him into the Void as well.

The rage and hate returned to Drouillard in that instant, in a fiery explosion. He flailed at the mind of the boy, ripping and tearing at it like the innocent soul was some kind of parasite. Finally, before they could cross that border from which there would be no return, he succeeded in prying the boy’s mind loose from his own. And as he watched Sutton Deary sink away, screaming in terror and begging for help, Drouillard was able to claw himself back into the world of the living.

The last he saw of Sutton, the boy who had loved him and had given him a few brief days of peace and rest, he was fading into the dark with arms desperate and flailing, and a voice that screamed and screamed and screamed as it fell into the abyss…

Then, he opened his eyes to see daylight, and the face of a highway patrol officer, hovering over him.

His little body was in agony, and his head fell to the side. For just a moment he saw the windshield of the car, now lying on its side. His mother was halfway out through the broken glass. On his father’s side of the car there was only a red stain that obscured the driver’s seat and steering wheel.

And he knew they were both dead.

The physical pain was like nothing he had ever experienced. It was as if every cell of his young body was exploding. He took a deep breath and tried to scream, but only blood sprayed out of his mouth.

He was aware of the cop saying, “I can’t believe it, but the kid’s alive!”

Another voice: “I’m sure he was dead…”

Then: “He was, but he’s breathing now! And I saw his eyes open…”

Drouillard wanted out! His little body was broken—damaged horribly. Sutton Deary was gone, and there was no longer any joy or peace in occupying his body. Instead, being in this broken flesh was pure agony. So with every bit of strength the Wanderer had, he tried to shed the body like a tattered suit. The way he had shed bodies many times before.

And discovered that he could not.

He raged. He writhed. He shook from head to toe. But no matter what he did, the battered flesh would not slide off his mind. The pain just became greater and more unendurable. In a panic, Drouillard reached out for the mind of Sutton Deary, instinctively knowing that he could only leave the body if another soul was there to take his place. But the boy’s spirit was now far beyond his reach. Hopeless now, he remembered the boy’s screaming voice, receding into the Void below him.

For better or worse, this body was his now. And he was trapped in it.

Mercifully, he lost consciousness before despair could claim him.

Drouillard regained consciousness a week later, on a respirator. The pain was less, but his small limbs were held rigid by casts, and there was a tube in his throat. When he turned his head to look out the window, he saw something that confused him. There were mountains, but they were not the mountains that he was familiar with. These were low and green, more rolling hills than the majestic edifice of the Wasatch. He didn’t know where he was, but he knew he was no longer in Salt Lake City.

He let his mind recede back into the pain-filled darkness, to try and understand what this could mean.

I am trapped in this body. But I am no longer trapped in the Salt Lake Valley. I think… I may be outside of the Hereafter…

Sutton Deary was gone. In the now empty vastness of the boy’s mind, Drouillard tried to find his footing. He tried to find that peace that he had lost. What he found instead was the rage, the hatred, and the need for revenge that he thought he had left behind. He now knew that it had never left him at all. It had been waiting this whole time, like a packed bag, forgotten in the corner.

He unpacked that bag, and adorned himself with his rage once again. The feel of it was warm and comfortable, and even through his pain, the face that had been little Sutton Deary smiled.

In the weeks that followed, he learned that he was at South Davis Community Hospital in Bountiful, just north of Salt Lake City. His Aunt Kayla had been there to visit him every day over the past six months, and for a time, they had thought he might never come out of his coma. But now, the doctors were amazed at his recovery, and expected him to be released soon.

He pondered what he would do with this new life. Through some strange quirk of fate, his old soul had been granted a new, young body in which to grow up, and grow old. He knew he would no longer have an eternity, but he would have as long as this new body would last. His time was limited. And if he was going to take his revenge, he would have to start planning now. And until then, he would need to be Sutton Deary.

Behind unfocused eyes, and through a haze of painkillers, he planned.

A week later, a nurse brought in some toys for him to play with. He was able to lift his arms again, and she arranged the tray in front of him and set up the toys. There was a set of Matchbox cars, a Viewmaster with reels of the Flintstones and Death Valley, and a little box filled with green toy soldiers.

He set up the soldiers so that they were all facing him. And then he began to knock them over.

“Bang, bang, bang,” he said, as each one fell.

Soon only one was left. He stared at it for hours, and in that soldier he saw his future, spooling out in front of him. He would be a soldier. He would gain power. And he would find a way to strike at them all.

When his Aunt Kayla asked him, three months later, if he was excited to leave the hospital in Bountiful, to go home and live with her and her family, he just smiled at her.

“Do you want to take your toys with you?” she asked.

“Just this one,” he said. He held up the one green soldier from the box, holding it so that the gun pointed at his aunt.

“Bang,” he said, and smiled.

The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.

For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.

To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.

If you’re interested in listening to the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.

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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.

Wess Mongo Jolley

Wess Mongo Jolley is Utah native, who is now an expatriate American novelist, editor, poet and poetry promoter, living in Montreal. He is Founder and Director of the Performance Poetry Preservation Project, and is most well known for hosting the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel podcast for more than ten years. His poems and short stories have appeared or journals such as Off The Coast, PANK, The New Verse News, and Danse Macabre, Apparition Literary Journal, Grain, and in collections such as the Write Bloody Press book The Good Things About America. He loves hearing from readers, and can be contacted through his website, at https://wessmongojolley.com. If you are enjoying this story, please drop him a line, and consider supporting his work as a novelist at http://patreon.com/wessmongojolley. All of the trilogy's over 207 chapters are available there for subscribers, and new poems, short stories, and other content is posted there every Friday.

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